(JTA) — Pope Francis defended Pius XII’s record during World War II, calling the former pope “the great defender of the Jews.”
In an interview Monday with Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper, the pope said Pius hid many Jews in convents and even his own residence, including 42 babies born in the pope’s “own bed.”
“I don’t want to say that Pius XII did not make any mistakes — I myself make many — but one needs to see his role in the context of the time,” Francis said. “For example, was it better for him not to speak so that more Jews would not be killed or for him to speak.”
The interview was reprinted in English translation on the Patheos blog.
Critics have long accused Pius of not having done enough to help Jews during the Holocaust, while the Vatican has asserted he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.
So far the Vatican has kept its archives from the Nazi era closed to researchers, but Francis has said he will open them. Pius XII was declared “venerable” and put on the path to sainthood in 2009.
The pope also noted the failures of the Allied powers to act more forcefully during the Holocaust.
“I also want to say that sometimes I get ‘existential hives’ when I see that everyone takes it out against the Church and Pius XII, and they forget the great powers,” Francis said. “Did you know that they knew the rail network of the Nazis perfectly well to take the Jews to concentration camps? They had the pictures. But they did not bomb those railroad tracks. Why? It would be best if we spoke a bit about everything.”